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Expert Esophageal Cancer Care Puts Patrick on Course to Recovery

A multidisciplinary care team treated Patrick Knelly close to his home

When Sugarloaf resident Patrick Knelly, 43, started losing weight in 2019, he wasn’t too concerned. As a father of two sporty kids and a general manager at a local golf club, he had been trying to increase his activity level and get healthier.

However, his welcome weight loss was soon joined by another symptom: discomfort when swallowing.

He saw his internal medicine physician, Jodi Lenko, MD, with LVPG Family and Internal Medicine–Alliance Drive, who thought the culprit might be gastroesophageal reflux disease. While medication helped for a few weeks, Knelly’s symptoms suddenly became much worse.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t eat anything but ice cream and liquids,” Knelly says. “That’s when Dr. Lenko set up an endoscopy [at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Hazleton].”

Knelly’s battle begins

Soon after waking up from the endoscopy, Knelly received startling news: a tumor was found at the bottom of his esophagus, blocking the opening to his stomach.

“My wife and I knew from the second the doctor walked in the room that something was very wrong,” Knelly says. “But my care team got the ball moving quickly. They sent me for other tests that same day while Dr. Lenko made calls to the best cancer specialists in the area.”

One of those doctors was hematologist oncologist Michael Evans, MD, with the Cancer Center at LVH–Hazleton, who visited Knelly in the hospital that same day.

“It meant so much that Dr. Evans made time to see me, just hours after everything as I knew it was flipped upside down,” Knelly says. “He was very positive and had an amazing bedside manner. Instead of feeling lost or alone, my family and I felt supported from the very beginning.”

Receiving multidisciplinary care, close to home

Further testing confirmed that Knelly had stage 3 gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma, a type of esophageal cancer that forms where the esophagus and stomach join together.

Within a few days of his initial testing and their first meeting, Knelly saw Dr. Evans to go over his care plan.

Dr. Evans had contacted surgical oncologist Jeffrey Brodsky, MD, with LVPG Surgical Oncology–1240 Cedar Crest, to collaborate on developing Knelly’s treatment plan. They recommended an aggressive chemotherapy regimen (known as FLOT) and an esophagectomy, which involves removing most of the esophagus and reconstructing it with part of the stomach.

“I felt very confident with the treatment plan Drs. Evans and Brodsky recommended, and I could tell they were the best of the best,” Knelly says. “Even better, I could receive the care I needed without having to drive hours away.”

Soon after, Knelly started his chemotherapy regimen. After only two treatments, he noticed an improvement in his swallowing.

“I’ll never forget one of the first solid foods I had in months,” Knelly says. “My mom made a catfish meal, and I was able to swallow a few bites. It was amazing, and experiencing that breakthrough really did a lot for me mentally.”

A follow-up scan halfway through his chemotherapy regimen confirmed that the tumor was shrinking significantly.

“Patrick’s response to FLOT was phenomenal,” Dr. Evans says. “Only 10 to 15 percent of patients with his diagnosis experience that level of response.”

After finishing his chemotherapy regimen, Knelly underwent his esophagectomy at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest.

“Patrick’s esophagectomy went very well, and when we performed a biopsy afterward, no active cancer cells were found,” Dr. Brodsky says. “This indicated a complete pathological response to his chemotherapy regimen and a favorable prognosis.”

Continued care throughout recovery

Recovering from the esophagectomy was not easy for Knelly, but Dr. Lenko and Dr. Brodsky were available throughout his time at home to answer any questions and provide support.

“Dr. Lenko moved heaven and earth for me throughout every stage of my care journey, and when I returned home from my surgery, she was always there to answer questions,” Knelly says. “Late one evening, I was having trouble with a drain tube and called Dr. Brodsky for his advice. He stayed on the phone with me for as long as it took to fix the problem and put me at ease.”

After eight months, Knelly was able to resume a mostly normal diet, get back to his typical level of activity and go back to work.

Feeling grateful

Today, Knelly is back to his normal routine and is still cancer-free. He also has regained a lot of the healthy weight lost after his surgery.

He continues to see Dr. Lenko regularly, and is grateful for not only his care team, but the opportunity he had to receive care in his own community.

“I’ve heard stories of people traveling hours each way for cancer care, and I can’t imagine how hard that would have been,” Knelly says. “I’m so grateful that I was able to receive the best possible care close to my family and home, and I couldn’t have had a better outcome.”

Cancer Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hazleton

Cancer Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Hazleton

The Cancer Center is part of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

A national leader in cancer care and a member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance providing many advanced offerings, facilities and technologies

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